Plastic's Back! COVID Contamination Concerns Crush California's "Green" New Deal

Disposable plates, silverware, and straws are making a comeback in California. New guidelines issued by the CDC recommend restaurants use plasticware by default as a way to limit the spread of the virus upon reopening. 

Environmental groups have become infuriated with the new recommendation, as it now means all their hard work to ban plastic straws and push a "Green" New Deal could come to an abrupt end (maybe temporarily) because according to the CDC, throwaway dishes, utensils, napkins, and tablecloths could reduce virus spread.

California recycling and clean water groups recently delivered a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, questioning how exactly plasticware diminishes the probabilities of contracting the virus and also accused petrochemical companies of "trying to influence CDC guidelines for reopening food establishments in their favor."

"The idea that the CDC recommends that single-use disposable items should be preferred seems a little illogical to me," Chris Slafter, interim coordinator of Clean Water Action's ReThink Disposable program, which provides grants to restaurants and advises them on how to transition and replace plasticware to more sustainable products, told Politico. "Someone still has to handle that item before it goes into a customer's hand."

In pre-corona times, California and its green activists led the way in eliminating plastic straws and other petroleum‐based plastics from the restaurant industry as they have long criticized the items eventually end up in the oceans, polluting and killing wildlife. 

We recently noted that microplastics have also ended up in human stool. 

Now, in post-corona times, with California's restaurant industry crashed (according to OpenTable data from late May), eateries that have been opened with carryout only and ones that have just fully reopened, have turned to plasticware over the CDC's new sanitary guidelines. 

OpenTable restaurant data through the end of May

Restaurants in other states have also followed the new guidelines with the switch to disposable menus, plates, silverware, etc. 

However, Stanford University epidemiologist Steven Goodman does not see a difference in plasticware from regular plating, in terms of reducing virus spread, as he notes, there's still human staff behind the scenes making the food.  

"It doesn't sound like there should be a big difference if they're handled carefully," Goodman said. "Washing the plates well should get rid of [the virus], and so the only difference could be how they're handled between the time when they are on the table and in the sink or in the washing machine."

Sharokina Shams, the California Restaurant Association's vice president of public affairs, told Politico in an email response that "many of the current local public health orders (which are a response to the coronavirus pandemic) do put an emphasis on single-use products, and cities have been moving to suspend the ban on plastic bags."

"It’s also interesting to note that the number of delivery and takeout orders went up during stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders. If that becomes a long-term pattern, you may see the demand for single-use products rise," said Shams. 

And just like that, who would've ever thought California's green movement would get derailed by a virus.